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Shooting with 16mm Film Stock

While the use of 16mm film has waned in favor of 35mm film and digital technology, companies such as Kodak still produce this vintage stock when you want to experiment in a historically relevant style. It creates a particular aesthetic that allows it to be the film stock of choice for many producers and directors, as well as resulting in hard copy negatives that serve as a backup for many years to come.

What Is 16mm Film?

The demarcation 16mm refers to the width of the film, which was once the favored medium for shooting TV series and movies. You can find both long pitch and short pitch films, which have slightly different spacings that make them suitable for different types of film stocks, such as negative, print, and reversal.

  • Standard 16mm film refers to a picture taking area of 10.26mm by 7.49mm and a perforation at both sides of every frame line.
  • Super 16mm is a variant that increases the picture taking area to 12.52mm by 7.41mm using a single-sprocket film.
  • Ultra 16mm is yet another variant created by widening the left and right sides of a standard 16mm camera gate and provides a frame size between the Standard and Super sizes.

Why Shoot with 16mm Stock?

Due to advancements in digital technology and film stock, 16mm film has improved significantly in its quality since the 1970s, and some modern TV series and movies are now shooting using the format.

  • You can digitally scan 16mm film at a higher resolution before editing and color grading, then print using a laser color grader onto 35mm film.
  • 16mm film often creates a grittiness and texture selectively used by many filmmakers for aesthetic reasons or to help portray the period in which a movie is set.
  • 16mm cameras tend to be lightweight and are comparable to shooting with smaller digital cameras.

What Are the Limitations of Using 16mm Film?

One of the most obvious limitations of shooting with 16mm film compared to digital cameras is the length of time available on the film.

  • While digital video mediums offer an endless number of takes, shooting with 16mm stock requires you to carefully plan your shoots, rehearse beforehand, and work with urgency. This may be a disadvantage for some, while for others, it creates an environment that is advantageous to creating the outcome you want.
  • The processing of film stock can add a significant amount to your budget when compared with digital technology but results in archival negatives that you'll always have available as a backup.

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